The crowd responded with hearty applause as three runners made their way down the sprint track on Friday at LSU’s Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
Athletes garnering attention from the crowd is nothing new at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association/State Farm State Track and Field Meet. But it was a new experience for the seven para-ambulatory athletes who competed as part of a pilot program at the LHSAA meet. Events were incorporated into the LHSAA’s B-C meet.
“I go to events and help run events all over the country,” said Pam Carey, the sports and recreation coordinator for Louisiana Gumbo, Games Uniting Mind and Body.
“This is a first for us. The LHSAA has had a wheelchair competition for a while. We contacted them in December about adding para-ambulatory athletes, and they agreed to let us do it as a pilot program or exhibition.
“Hopefully, by next year these competitors and several others will be able to compete for their school teams.”
Carey said the para-ambulatory events are open to those who are visually impaired, amputees or have a cerebral palsy, scoliosis or another verifiable disability.
Friday’s competition included 12 events – six for boys and six for girls – marked the first para-ambulatory state high school competition in the nation, said Carey.
Carey said she hopes the LHSAA will vote to incorporate the para-ambulatory events into its meets like it has wheelchair events.
Wheelchair athletes can compete for their high school teams and earn points, but cannot provide a margin of victory for a state title.
A total of seven para-ambulatory athletes competed – two from Catholic-New Iberia, two from Dodson and one each from Denham Springs, St. Amant and Caddo Magnet.
Caddo Magnet’s Lakeria Taylor, who is visually impaired and ran with a guide runner, edged Denham Springs’ Taylor Teal in the girls 100 meters. Three runners in the boys 100 followed.
“This is quite a treat for these kids,” Carey said. “One of my boys told me running at LSU was on his list of things to do. And he’s done that now.”
Teal, who has cerebral palsy, is already looking toward next year. St. Amant’s Acy Jackson was among the boys competitors.
“Hopefully, I can get to do this for my school team next year,” Teal said.
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